27 January 2015 | General Interest
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has turned its attention to the sexual exploitation of children in state care. The Royal Commission has ordered government departments and private organisations to provide data from the past 10 years relating to all alleged and proven sexual abuse of children in care.
The Royal Commission’s nationwide examination of modern state care systems signals the most significant investigation into contemporary abuse ever undertaken.
The Royal Commission will now collect data from government departments and organisations within the system, amassing incident reports created when a child in care alleges that they have been sexually assaulted.
The Royal Commission Interim Report released last year identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as overrepresented as victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings, and also as particularly vulnerable to the challenges of engaging in the Royal Commission processes.
The Interim Report stated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are over-represented as victims of sexual abuse, noting, however, the little statistical research available. Almost 7 per cent of private session participants identified as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person — despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people representing 3 per cent of the Australian population.
The Interim Report stated all children in an institution, who have an association with an institution or in out-of-home care (OOHC) may be at risk of sexual abuse. The risk for sexual abuse disproportionally impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 10.7 times more likely than other children to be living in OOHC at 30 June 2013.
Despite representing only 4.67 per cent of all children in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 34.41 per cent of all children in OOHC.
The scope of OOHC in the royal commission interim report includes foster care, kinship care or voluntary care. Children in out-of-home care face a range of additional factors that make them more vulnerable to abuse. A primary factor identified in the Interim Report is that these children are in residential or quasi-residential environments, often with extensive periods of unsupervised contact with adults.
The interim report also observed that the history of forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children caused much psychological and emotional damage which must be taken into account as the intergenerational effects have been inherited by today’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and they remain highly vulnerable to sexual abuse.
In another development, the Royal Commission has announced it will hold public hearings in regional centres across Australia for the first time. Since the commission was established in 2013 public hearings have been held in every capital city.
While private interviews with survivors have been held outside of metropolitan areas there have been calls from advocates to hold hearings across regional Australia. The commission is planning to visit multiple regional centres in 2015.
The next public hearings into the recent sexual abuse of children in state care are scheduled for Sydney on 10-20 March and 25-27 March.